Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rye as a Cover Crop

Spring tillage has begun at Shady Side Farm. Tilling the soil has gotten a bad rap lately, with many farmers moving to minimum-tillage and no-till practices. This is a response to poor tillage practices used in the past that led to erosion. 

Unfortunately, many minimum-tillage and no-till farms rely heavily on herbicides to get the job done. In my limited understanding of How Things Work, I can't see how organic farming and no-till farming can coincide. Perhaps someone will enlighten me, as I'm always learning. In the meantime, we till. 

This is a field in which we grew corn last year. You can see the corn stalk debris left over. But you'll also see a fall-planted rye stand. Rye does not die over the winter, and can be either left to grow and harvested in mid-summer, or tilled into the soil as a green manure crop. Green manure crops return important nutrients to the soil. They also increase the organic matter levels in the soil, suppress weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Win-win-win-win.

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmer produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”  — Wendell Berry

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